New York City is having the most mild summer I can remember. We’ve barely hit ninety degrees and that was at least a month ago. Since then we’ve had cool, spring-like weather most of the summer.
The other evening walking with friends, I noticed how loud the sounds of window air conditioners were in the small streets of the West Village. The temperature and humidity outside couldn’t have been more comfortable.
I could only think the following thoughts about their unnecessarily using their air conditioners: Air conditioners use energy. That energy comes mainly from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels pollute. Pollution makes us unhealthy.
Me: With weather this perfect, the air conditioners aren’t improving the air for these people. They might as well light up a cigarette and blow smoke into babies’ faces.
Friend: It’s not that bad. It’s not like pollution is going right into kids’ faces.
Me: You know how we live in a polluted world? Acid rain? Global warming? Mercury in the groundwater?
Me: We can’t get away from it anymore. It’s a part of our lives that we breathe polluted air. Remote parts of the Pacific Ocean have garbage floating in it.
Me: That’s the smoke people in the past blew in our faces. We can’t avoid it. And now we’re doing the same to future generations.
We all know life requires using energy. We can’t avoid producing pollution. Natural processes can make pollution benign to systems we humans depend at a limited pace. We’re polluting faster than nature can unpollute.
At least we don’t have to pollute when it benefits no one in any way.
Most people know to turn off lights when they leave a room empty, to use cold water instead of hot for laundry and dishes, to bring a bag when they shop so they don’t have to get a new one, and things like that.
Why don’t they do them? I suspect because they see those acts only as work for them — costs with no benefits. I hope this model of pollution being like smoke in babies’ faces helps. Those babies were once you. If you have kids or care about others’ kids, it’s their faces.
I try to avoid telling people what to do. I’m not telling anyone what to do here. I don’t mind sharing my values and a bit about what I learned about nature, like the Law of Conservation of Energy. I hope putting it all together with a simple mental model leads people at least not pollute for no benefit to anyone whatsoever — like not to turn on their air conditioners during the most comfortable weather you could want.
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